on January 23, 2013
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Compliance' is based on a bizarre, real-life crime that occurred at a McDonald's restaurant in a small town in Kentucky. The criminal who committed this crime also committed approximately 70 other similar crimes over a span of ten years; although the crime at the Kentucky McDonald's was the worst.
The odd thing about the crime is that it was committed with the perpetrator on the phone in the State of Florida. SUPER SPOILERS AHEAD. All the events in the film are basically what happened during the real life event; except instead of a McDonald's, the establishment in the film is a fried chicken restaurant.
The perp pretended to be a police officer and convinced the manager of the restaurant, that a young, teenage employee of hers had stolen money from a customer earlier in the day. He tells the manager, Sandra, that his colleagues are busy and she needs to take the employee in the back room, where she is instructed to strip search her.
Any normal person with the slightest bit of common sense would have realized that this was some kind of scam or a pervert getting his rocks off from the get go, but Sandra is one of those people who never thinks of questioning authority, and follows everyone of the perpetrator's directives. Becky, the young employee, who now finds herself virtually naked, is covered only by an apron. The caller manipulates Becky as well, claiming that her brother could face charges, as he is also the subject of a police investigation.
Things become even more cringeworthy (and I guarantee that you'll be squirming in your seat), when the perverted caller convinces Sandra to call her fiancé to the restaurant, in order to watch the hapless Becky. Van is even more of a 'Yes Man' than Sandra and ends up first spanking her for ten minutes and then instructs her to have oral sex, at the behest of the caller. This goes on for over two hours, as Sandra is outside, helping customers. Van finally leaves but calls a friend from his car, acknowledging that he just did a "very bad thing".
After a custodian comes in and realizes what's going on, he has Sandra call her regional manager, who supposedly was at the police station with the caller but in reality was sleeping at home.
How could anyone be so gullible to believe that the guy on the other end of the line was actually a cop? His instructions become so ludicrous, that any normal person would have realized what was going on. But we're not dealing with 'normal' people here. Like the good Germans in Nazi Germany, who followed 'orders', the employees of this particular fast food restaurant, simply 'complied' with the authority figure who was giving them orders. Perhaps they had such a fear of punishment (the manager thought she might lose her job and the fiancé and the store employee, thought they might end up being placed under arrest), that this caused them to become the 'ultimate followers'.
On a moral plane, some have argued that everyone involved in this incident was a victim. For me, at least Sandra and Van, as a result of their absurd gullibility and slavish devotion to authority, are just as guilty as the caller, for facilitating the events that occurred. You can make some excuses for Becky, due to her young age, but it's hard believing that she's representative of the average teenager (Dreama Walker doesn't quite hit the mark as Becky, acting more annoyed than in fear for her life; Ann Dowd, as Sandra, is much more convincing, as the clueless and arrogant company worker).
Believe it or not, the police finally did catch the caller but he was acquitted at trial, after the prosecution was unable to prove definitely that he had made the actual calls to the restaurant. The fiancé ended up getting five years for sexual abuse but the real-life Sandra and Becky successfully sued McDonald's and got million dollar payouts (Sandra claimed McDonald's was aware of the prank calls but did nothing to alert their employees about them beforehand).
One must acknowledge that 'Compliance' is a well made film, which keeps your interest from beginning to end. I don't think writer/director Craig Zobel, should be credited so much in the creative screenplay department, since he basically regurgitated the events that occurred from the real-life incident. And while the tension escalates nicely to the denouement, this is not a film that I'll be rushing out to see again. See it once, and you'll very much get the idea what it's about.
'Compliance' has engendered quite a bit of discussion on the internet about the nature of those morally challenged 'yes men', who are unable to judge right from wrong, due to their subservience to authority figures. Let's hope that this incident (and others like them), are the exception to the rule--that there aren't a lot of people out there who would so readily follow the dictates of such a diabolical manipulator. But judging from history, my optimism about people in general, may entirely be a pipe dream!